Amateur boxers are not paid but do enter competitions. Amateur boxing is administered by Boxing New Zealand, which was founded in 1902 as the New Zealand Boxing Association.
The annual national boxing championships run by Boxing New Zealand were first held in Christchurch in 1902. Until 1924 the winner and runner-up from separate North and South island championships were sent to the national championship. From 1924 each local boxing association sent representatives.
In addition to the national championships, amateur boxers have fought in local bouts and travelled to bouts in other parts of New Zealand and in Australia. From the 1970s New Zealand amateur boxers began travelling overseas more regularly and fighting foreign boxers on New Zealand turf. The new jumbo jets made air travel cheaper, and local associations increasingly cultivated international relationships.
In 2012 there were 45 New Zealand-based events on the Boxing New Zealand calendar.
Clubs and gymnasiums
Local boxing associations – clubs – affiliated to the national association were started in the early 1900s. Boxing lessons and bouts were also provided by private gymnasiums and YMCAs. In 2012 there were 27 local amateur associations, comprising 108 clubs, affiliated to Boxing New Zealand.
Poet Denis Glover was a keen boxer. He was introduced to the sport at high school and belonged to the Canterbury University College boxing club. Glover wrote in his autobiography: ‘In the [school] boxing championship I found myself up against a redoubtable fist-merchant. He had real boxing boots … [and] was reputed to drink an occasional glass of beer behind the matron’s back and also to smoke cigarettes … I fought him in the school championships and everybody was demanding my massacre: it would serve me right for being in the Sixth and for being different. He won.’1
Schools and universities
Boxing started in schools and universities in the early 1900s. It was part of the school sporting curriculum for boys. All universities had boxing clubs and held tournaments, and boxing was a competitive sport at the annual inter-university tournament. By the early 1960s university boxing had waned in popularity, though in the early 2000s some university gyms offered boxing classes. Boxing was no longer available in schools, though some school pupils belonged to boxing clubs and gyms and competed for national junior titles.
During the First and Second world wars, professional competitions ceased and amateurs and professionals were allowed to fight together. Boxing matches between members of the different Allied armed forces were organised, as were New Zealand bouts. New Zealand won British Army boxing titles in the First World War. During the Second World War, New Zealanders fought Australians in Egypt, and US marines when they were stationed in New Zealand between 1942 and 1944.
During the sea voyage to the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Ted Morgan put on weight and had to move up to welterweight from his usual lightweight division. He also dislocated his knuckle while training in England before the games. Despite these challenges, Morgan went on to win gold and was described by one journalist as ‘the best boxer among the British Empire contingent’.2
Olympic and Commonwealth games
Boxing became an Olympic sport in 1904. Women’s boxing was included in the Olympics for the first time in 2012, with two participants attending from New Zealand.
Charlie Purdy was the first boxer to represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games, in 1924. New Zealand’s most successful Olympic boxer was Ted Morgan, who won the welterweight gold medal at the 1928 games. Other Olympic medallists were Kevin Barry, who won the light-heavyweight silver medal in 1984, and David Tua, who won the heavyweight bronze medal in 1992. Auckland boxer Paea Wolfgramm, fighting for Tonga, won a super-heavyweight silver medal in 1996.
New Zealand boxers who won Commonwealth (previously Empire) Games gold medals were Frank Creagh (heavyweight, 1950), Wally Coe (welterweight, 1962), Bill Kini (heavyweight, 1966), Jimmy Peau (heavyweight, 1986), Michael Kenny (super-heavyweight, 1990) and David Nyika (light heavyweight, 2014; heavyweight, 2018).
Women can do anything
Critics of boxing who condemn the sport for its violence have not applauded the advent of women boxers, some arguing that boxing is too dangerous for women to engage in. Unsurprisingly, women boxers do not share this view. In 2012 Auckland boxer Alexis Pritchard said ‘Look at the opposition there was to women running the marathon. It's the same kind of thing. Women can do anything. It's just that old school mentality.’3
According to the 2007/8 Active New Zealand Survey, 2.6% of New Zealand adults (84,000 people) boxed at least once over a 12-month period (including people who boxed in gyms).
Boxing was an exclusively male sport until the 1990s. The first women’s national title bouts were held in 1997.